Ironically, Jewish identity is not assumed in Israel
Is it only Diaspora youth who need Birthright?
What a paradox: secular Jewish youth are sent from the Diaspora to Israel to build their Jewish identity.
Then, when Diaspora youth move to Israel (“make aliyah”), they are asked by many secular Israeli youth: “Why did you move here? What motivated you?” The answer should be obvious, and it’s not.
Paradox indeed: Hebrew-speaking secular Israel youth — not all of them, to be sure, but a shocking percentage — are uncertain as to their Jewish identity and that of many of their counterparts in the Diaspora. Needed: Birthright for Israelis.
What would the Israeli youth see in, for example, the United States? They would see many secular Jewish youth who are just as uncertain about their Jewish identity as they, the Israelis, are. But the Israelis would also see something else: Jewish youth who are not necessarily observant and do not affiliate with religious institutions yet have a firm sense of their Jewish identity.
The Israelis would meet Jewish youth who stand up for Israel on campus, who relish the collective Jewish memory at the Passover seder, who are not strangers to Friday night candles and kiddush, who might take a course or two in Jewish studies at the university, who find Jewish meaning in youth groups such as BBYO — that is to say, Jewish youth who have established a kind of middle ground between total observance and the total secularism that mark many Israeli youth.
To the objection that not all of Israeli youth are bifurcated in this manner, well, the exact same can be said to the promoters of Birthright: not all Diaspora youth need the trip. Their Jewish identity is firm. Yet, we have Birthright, since the bulk of Diaspora Jewish youth could use a boost in their Jewish identity.
Ditto for Israeli youth.
The needs on each side of the ocean differ. Even the Diaspora youth with the strongest Jewish identity usually need a better understanding of the modern State of Israel and of the role of the Land of Israel in Jewish history, thought and experience. Ergo, Birthright. Even the Israeli youth with the strongest Israeli identity usually need a better understanding of the role of Jewish ritual and ethics in Jewish history, thought and experience. Ergo, Birthright for Israeli youth.
The stronger Israel gets, the weaker the old Diaspora links to Israel become. For example, Israel’s financial needs are minimal. The old federation focus on propping up the Israeli economy has receded. “Startup nation” is an economic powerhouse. Israel’s Gross Domestic Product is larger than that of most countries in the world.
Also, oddly enough, the stronger Israel gets, the stronger the new Diaspora links to Israel need to become.
Israel’s international reputation has receded because it is no longer seen as an underdog. On the diplomatic front, Israel needs more support than ever.
Which means that Israel’s own citizenry, not just Diaspora Jewry, must have a perfectly clear and confident understanding of Israel’s uniqueness. One necessary means: Birthright for Israeli youth.
It requires the same visionary commitment that powered Birthright.
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